A while ago, a new catch phrase started doing the rounds, namely that ‘sitting is going to be the next smoking’. And the more I think about it, the more I have to agree – unfortunately! We all know that smoking is bad for our health. It’s been linked with cancer, long-term lung disease and heart disease to name but a few. Smoking is thought to be the greatest cause of preventable death in the world. So can sitting really be as bad for us as smoking?
What is so bad about sitting anyway?
Experts are describing inactivity as ‘one of the biggest’ challenges in health. A sedentary lifestyle has now been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancers, obesity and poor mental health. Sitting for more than 4 hours each day has been shown to slow the metabolism and affect the way the body controls blood pressure, sugar levels and the breakdown of fats. Unfortunately the effect is also found in people who class themselves as fit (such as those getting regular exercise), if they also spend long periods of time sitting.
Is sitting bad for business?
Sitting for too long (more than 4 hours a day) is bad for business too. As well as the cost of absenteeism due to sickness, prolonged sitting reduces productivity and performance too. When we sit for long periods of time, our level of alertness drops. As this happens, our efficiency takes a downward slide. Workers who use sit-stand workstations claim to be more alert, task-driven and positive. They also report higher energy levels, especially in the afternoon.
What Can You Do?
Here are just a few ideas to cut back on prolonged sitting, and improve productivity at the same time:
- Have a regular break, get up and move about at regular intervals throughout the day. I set the alarm on my phone to go off every 30 minutes for a quick movement break
- Try standing or walking meetings, these help to keep meetings short and efficient
- Build movement into the day; for example a lunchtime walk, take the stairs or walk between meetings
- Invest in a standing desk, or a sit-stand desk, so that you and your team can spend time standing each day
So, is sitting worse than smoking?
The number of people smoking has shown a steady decline. In 2013 it was estimated that less than 20% of the UK population smoked, the lowest level in 80 years. A survey by the British Heart Foundation found that 45% of women and 37% of men spend less than 30 minutes a day up on their feet. Almost 80% of office workers feel they spend too much time sitting down.
So while sitting may not be as ‘bad’ for you as smoking, there are certainly a lot more of us doing it! Let’s get creative about activity at the office!
By Tania Barney, a registered Occupational Therapist with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC), UK. Professional qualifications: B App Sc (OT), M App Sc (Health Sciences), University of South Australia.